Sunday, May 27, 2007

arch pretentiousness

Well! An expat Tassie friend of mine invited me to a free Karlheinz Stockhausen concert, established through SIAL Sound Studios, that she'd promoted. Having heard plenty about but never any of (at least, not wittingly) Stockhausen's work, I decided I should go. Fortunately, a friend of mine was also in attendance, otherwise I would have had no one to vent to.
So I knew I was up for a thoroughly pretentious time from the get go when the first piece, Der Kleine Harlekin (Little Harlequin), was performed. This was a solo piece for clarinet and involved a young woman, dressed in pseudo harlequin attire, playing a pleasant enough tune on her clarinet, absurdly strutting around the performance space and teasingly playing with the audience. I enjoyed the piece. It was fun and funny (for example, the spot light occasionally 'lost' the harlequin and randomly roamed around the venue looking for her while she played and strutted on in the dark). And the music was lovely. Plus, the performative element to it really enhanced the experience, showing, as it did, some extra ability on the performer, Karen Heath's, behalf.

All the other pieces were boring and annoying, with the exception of Karen Heath's later performance. I found the music to be mostly unengaging and the performances a tedious conceit that did nothing to enhance the music. The performers were all very good at their instruments. In particular, the trumpeter had nice shoes.
But the point isn't necessarily how brilliant the pieces are but the extent to which the ideas push the limits of art and thought and performance and culture, explode our received notions of how art is and should be and leave us at the end of the performance thinking and feeling differently about the whole shit.
Why should I expect any less? After all, this is from a composer who has penned a performance for string quartet with helicopters!

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